The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources.
This year, IBM was a major sponsor of the AFB Leadership Conference held in Chicago, IL on April 18-20, 2013. The conference had over 400 attendees and covered a wide range of topics over the 3 days. On Thursday, AFB hosted a well attended pre-conference event that spanned a broad range of topics including literacy, technology, and employment. The IBM team attending the conference—Chieko Asakawa, Hiro Takagi, and Peter Fay—presented IBM Research's focus on human centric solutions during the Forum on Inclusive Technology Solutions in the Workplace and Life.
On Friday, Chieko Asakawa, an IBM Fellow from the Tokyo Research Lab, was the keynote speaker at the packed Conference opening session. Chieko shared her story with the audience of becoming blind at the age of 14 and how it motivated her to become a leader in the field of accessibility research in Japan and around the globe. She talked about her early work focused on digital braille and voice browsers and then more recently her research in the area of crowd sourced social accessibility.
On Saturday Hiro Takagi and Peter Fay led a session on Automated Video Description. In the presentation, Hiro pointed out how video description typically uses a pre-recorded human voice to describe what is happening on the screen when there is no dialog to support what is showing on the screen. The IBM Tokyo Research lab has developed a tool that allows you to type in the audio description, synchronize it to a movie, and then have the description read back by the computer using text-to-speech technology. Pretty cool stuff! In the second half of the session, Peter talked about one of IBM's partners, WGBH National Center for Accessible Media, and how they have developed a family of products—MoPix and Media Access Mobile—to caption and describe multi-media content for films and exhibits.
Overall, AFB did a great job hosting a wonderful conference jam-packed with informative sessions led by experts in the blindness field. Next year's event will be held February 27-March 1, 2014 at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, New York, NY.